•  Cotonou Slashes Charges on Transit Vehicles

Eromosele Abiodun

Despite the federal government’s ban on importation of vehicles through land border, the volume of cars smuggled into the country from Cotonou through Seme, Idiroko and other land borders has risen astronomically in the past four months.

The federal government had earlier in the year prohibited the importation of vehicles, new and old, through land borders.

THISDAY investigation revealed that the prohibition has not in any way hindered smugglers, who are running away from the prohibitive tariffs charged on new and old vehicles imported into Nigeria.

This is even as the government of Benin Republic last month approved the reduction of charges on transit vehicles by 27 per cent.
THISDAY findings revealed that the volume of cars imported through the Autonomous Port of Cotonou in transit to Nigeria has also recorded significant growth since March 2017.

While the importation of cars in Cotonou reached an all-time low of just 3,500 units in January 2017, the volume of cars discharged there last month was well over 10,000 units, according to data obtained from the Autonomous Port of Cotonou.

“From all indications, this figure is going to grow in the next month, as the naira has revalued against the CFA and more and more traders are patronising the port of Cotonou,” Elisee Dieudonne, a senior staff of a shipping line calling at the tiny West African country’s port said.

“The trend we’re seeing is that the old and crashed vehicles, which are paying comparatively low level of duties, are discharged in Lagos while the newer and more expensive second hand cars are discharged in Cotonou,” she added.

THISDAY findings also revealed that as a way to attract more Nigerian business to the country, the Benin Republic Ministry of Transport has approved the reduction of the amount charged for the vehicles in transit. As a result of this reduction, the price to clear a car discharged in Cotonou in transit to Nigeria was slashed from CFA399,920 (N257,000) to CFA290,000 (N186,000) with effect from July 1, 2017.

“We expect this reduction in prices in Cotonou will divert even more vehicles to Benin Republic, while the volumes in Lagos will remain stagnant,” Dieudonne said.

Unfortunately, Nigeria’s tariff on imported vehicles remains astronomically high at 35 per cent import duty and another 35 per cent surcharge amounting to a total of 70 per cent which is the highest in the world, thereby discouraging use of Nigerian ports.

Just yesterday, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), announced the seizure of 37 assorted vehicles, 12, 081 of smuggled parboiled rice and other contraband with a duty paid value of N1.611 billion.

Comptroller General of the NCS, Col Hameed Ali (RTD.) who disclosed this in a chat with newsmen in Lagos said the goods were seized between 2nd and 3rd of this month by the CGC compliance team and the roving team of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A.

Armed with credible information, he said the team trailed and evacuated the 37 assorted vehicles smuggled into the country through unapproved routs.

The smuggled vehicles, he added, included eight Lexus Jeep LX570 (2017), 12 Land Cruiser Jeep (2017), 17 Toyota Hilux (2016, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 respectively).

For the general goods, he said four persons are in detention while two persons are in detention for the vehicles smuggled into the country.

According to him, “Apart from the seizure of vehicles and rice, the reinvigorated anti-smuggling operations yielded another 156 assorted seizure including bales of used clothing, Indian hemp and used tyres. For the avoidance of doubt, the federal government policies banning the importation of rice and vehicles through the land borders are still in force. Nigeria Customs Service remains resolute in its determination to enforce these policies. NCS will continue to work towards crippling smugglers and getting them out of the illegitimate business.”

He added: “In the face of security and economic challenges, no responsible government will fold its hands while unpatriotic elements continue to engage in illegal activities that will further compromise national economic and security well-being of her people. The NCS as one of the enforcement agencies of government will continue to work towards ensuring compliance with all extant laws governing imports and exports in Nigeria.”